Monday, June 27, 2016

Where's the passion?

"Mia, what is passin?", asked an excited Molly.  Mia, who was in the middle of chewing her toes, looked up in disgust. "It's pronounced "pash-shin" you twit, not passin! Oh Molly, you've been here three years, when will you learn?"  Molly tried saying "passion" a few times, laying more stress on the "pah" part and spraying Mia in spit.  "Molllllyyy you disgustemundo thing. Look at what you've done. I've just had a bath two weeks ago, if Sid sees me like this, I will be hauled off for a ghastly shower! Go get my eau de cologne and hair gel at once. Let's see if we can mask some of this damage you've done."  Molly trotted away dutifully and returned with a large bottle of "Musk for Mutts" and a green tube of "Keep it straight" (taming shaggy dogs since 1873!). Mia proceeded to slather on vast quantities of the stuff, slicking down her unruly mane.  She made Molly spray the perfume while she walked through the cloud of scented mist and tossed her head about in style. Molly watched in fascination, sighing in admiration "Oh Mia, you're so elegant."  Mia twirled around and patted Molly on the head, flattery could get you anywhere with her!  "Come my little one, passion you said? Take notes!"

Molly settled down in front of a newspaper, a pen wedged in her mouth. "Passion, or pasión in Spanish", said Mia with a flourish as Molly shivered in excitement (she did love it when Mia spoke in foreign languages, it was all so posh), "comes from the Greek verb πασχω meaning to suffer". Molly looked puzzled at the unfamiliar letters, which Mia had traced with her manicured paw on the ground.  "How do you pronouce that Greek word?" Mia clicked impatiently, "Who cares, it's Greek to me! All that matters it's an old old word and basically means when you have an intense feeling for something or someone".  Molly still looked puzzled "Use it in a sentence".  Mia replied
almost instantly "I have a passion for antique furniture, crossword puzzles, tea ceremonies, origami, and old French movies". Molly looked amazed, "Wow, that's a lot of passion, where do you get the time?" Mia laughed, "Molly, we are dogs! We have only time. Just because you spend most of your time trying to find ways to open the cupboard and raid the dustbin, doesn't mean you can't have any other interests or find time to enjoy other things".  Molly looked genuinely puzzled, "But I like raiding the dustbin. It gives me such joy. I could do it all day long!"  Mia looked scornfully at her, "Trust you to have dustbin raiding as your passion. But then you are lucky, for not everyone gets the time or the opportunity to do something everyday that they are passionate about".  Molly looked pleased, but quickly adjusted her face to look pitiful (Mia loved it when she looked pitiful). "And what about Dad? He's passionate about photography and he gets to do it everyday.  So he and I are the same, we're living our dream!".  At this revelation Sid, who had been observing, and choosing to ignore the two of them, looked up in shock "Oh God! I can't believe the dustbin raider and I are the same!" Molly leapt into his lap, "But Puh-Pah passion is passion. Now take Mummy...totally unfocused she is. She works, but she wants to do everything else also. Dancing, writing, singing, baking, yoga, reading, start her own business, etc. No focus".

At this reference to my lack of focus, I chose to interrupt. "I like lots of things. And I can't do all of
them, all the time, but I'm lucky that my work allows me to indulge in other stuff. When I retire I intend to have a rollicking good time, there's so much to do! So don't feel too sorry for me my little Molly".  Mia looked pleased with this answer and came over with a withered piece of paper, which I took to be her attempt at origami. I accepted it with a straight face and patted her on the head, secretly thankful that she had other things to fall back on! But the whole discussion got me thinking about work and "passion".

I always find it interesting how most of us when introduced to new people and asked what we do, always answer with a "I work at XYZ". We are conditioned to see ourselves within the confines of what we do to earn a living. Which is not a bad thing, it's just rather dreary that our jobs seem to define us. When I was once introduced by someone to a new group, he said "She's a storyteller (aka a liar)." Which was an entertaining and a refreshing change from how I would usually answer. It also got me thinking about how several people don't do much else, outside of their work, presumably because they don't have the time. But I find it surprising that people feel that they have to work till they die, not because they necessarily need the money, but because it's difficult to just sit at home. I totally agree...but what does that have to do with a job? There is so much to indulge in beyond our jobs, and to let just that become our life is, to me, a dangerous thing. I spent 4 months last year in between jobs and I had the best time...there is always so much to do and learn...write, read, bake, sing, dance, yoga, travel. You could volunteer, play a sport, or even do something that pays you, not for the money, but because it interests you. I'm blessed
to have always had jobs that allowed me time to indulge in things that make me happy. Though I am quite insistent as well, my time beyond work is sacrosanct. For to live a life without passion, without doing anything that truly interests you...may as well never get out of bed!

My little internal rant was interrupted by a crash coming from the kitchen.  Molly was obviously indulging in her single minded pursuit of smelly trash.  As I walked towards the kitchen, ready to shriek at her, I noticed she was sitting by the windowsill, gazing at the moon outside.  So that meant? "Mia!", I yelled, glaring at a porky brown backside sticking out of the cupboard.  A cheeky whiskered face looked back at me, unapologetic, "You said it's good to have multiple interests, pursue my passion. I'm just trying out Molly's. And why is my origami in the trash?!" I hauled her out of the kitchen, while she yelped about the curtailing of her rights and she was better off on the streets where no one tried to interfere.  If I wasn't passionate about these two, I really would have torn my hair out by now!

Monday, May 30, 2016

On a Healthy Note

I wrote an article for the Hindu Metroplus, which they published on May 30th.  A subject close to my heart - my involvement with the choir, the Capital City Minstrels, has taught me a lot and continues to give me so much beyond just making music with other people. The benefits of choral singing are much more than one would imagine, and I chose to write about that, weaving in the experiences of other members in the choir.  The original article was a bit longer and had a bit of humour in it, while the final published piece (image below) was shortened a bit to meet word limit requirements and also keep the tone more informative and factual.

I'm sharing the original for a few of my friends or those who might enjoy my slightly longer version, with a bit of humour thrown in.

Hindu Metroplus, May 30, 2016

Music has always been an integral part of my life.  I was an abysmally poor clarinet player, a reasonably good dancer, and I am a safety-in-numbers-singer with a choir.  I’ve been a chorister for five years in school and now completing half a decade with the Capital City Minstrels in Delhi. CCM, as the choir is better known, has been performing in India and abroad for 22 years, with members from across the world.  And several, if not all, of us have experienced how choral singing is not just about singing in unison, but benefits the mind, body and soul.

Courtesy: Monica Chhabra
We have a horrendously addictive Whatsapp group, which wreaks havoc on mind and body, and I suspect does very little for our souls.  Apart from inane chatter, some articles on music feature as well. One pictogram showed the physical benefits of singing -from keeping vocal cords exercised so you sound younger; to getting an oxytocin high  - the happy hormone produced during childbirth (happy?) and sex (possibly explaining the slightly flushed and unconquerable look some of us get after singing). Another interesting piece was research by the Tenovus Cancer Centre, which analysed saliva samples of singers with cancer or caring for a cancer patient and found that just one hour of choral singing increased levels of immune proteins, reduced stress and improved mood - helping patients to be in the best position to receive treatment.

It made me think about how several of us in CCM have been impacted in similar ways – social, psychological and biological.  I am close to my choir mates, but they would probably draw the line if I took a swab to their mouths for a saliva sample. However, several of us have experiences that demonstrate benefits.  After losing my father, the devastation and helplessness I felt was savage and relentless. But almost on auto pilot, I returned to rehearsals shortly after.  The exhilaration that fills you when different voice parts blend in harmony and the camaraderie of the group gave me peace, joy and stability amidst the upheaval. Another member referred to the difficult time she had after losing her brother, tragically on a rehearsal night.  It took her some time to re-join CCM and sing her heart out in a cathartic outpouring - “I don’t pray anymore, I sing with my choir”.  Returning to the stage a couple of days after losing his father, Neeraj Devraj mentioned how important it was for him to sing with the choir at the time, in tribute to his father.
Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography

Others talk about choral singing helping with illness or work pressures, which manifest in problems like hypertension, insomnia or stress.  Dr. George Mathew, Reader with the Nehru Homeopathic Medical College, describes the rejuvenation he feels after rehearsals as a great stress buster.  Another member describes the problems faced when her husband fell ill and her daughters were young. She joined CCM in the early 2000s and refreshed and renewed through song, it took her through two angiograms and caring for post-operative trauma.  Yamini Joshi, a musician and music therapist, found CCM when she had fallen sick in college and was struggling to find an anchor.  “Having a choir family allows you to share and be surrounded by positivity. I find the act of going to rehearsal on a Wednesday evening after work, just brightens my day…it’s a mix of maturity and gay abandon.” 

Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography
Choral singing is also a great equalizer.  You can be a great soloist, a corporate bigwig, a struggling artist – you sing as one with the rest of your section.  Aasish Francis described his job where he was more of a single contributor in a smaller organization. He felt that being a part of the larger CCM not only “helps you understand your place as part of a larger whole, but also teaches you to guide and motivate others as they make the same journey”.  Another example of this was CCM singing in Europe last year.  We were hosted by a Swiss choir that didn’t speak much English and we communicated through hand gestures, smiling, and Google dictionary.  But when we sang together - language, age and racial differences melted away. 

So I may not have saliva samples to test, but most choristers will vouch for the power and healing of singing in unison.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year or rather Old Year finds

The new year always always comes with resolution building and making a to-do list of stuff you want to achieve. A clean slate, a fresh easel, etc, etc. I have tons of things that I'd like to do, but I'm not really the type to write all that stuff down.  This year, I hope to write more, and not just my little stories about Sid and me and the dogs and our friends, etc, but also some stuff about interesting things I find or use.

So for a person who spends an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook, I am quite bad at doing other things online - I don't shop much online, preferring to spend much more and go to a store! I do use sites like Pinterest to save things I come across, but most of the time I forget and then have to search for things. I don't like reading online so my Kindle and Kindle Fire are just lying around.  But in the last year, I've come across a few sites, products and apps that I've been using more regularly and realized how much more convenient, cost effective and useful they are. Some of these are more gifting ideas, but they are all available online and I discovered them through their social media pages and got them delivered to my doorstep. So here's some fun stuff I came across last year:

1) Flipboard - is not new, but like I said I only downloaded it recently and got Siddharth hooked on it too. While both our Flipboards look vastly different, his filled with current affairs, sports, technology news and mine with travel, food, books, social media, marketing and work related topics - it's the only app I end up reading on. It collates articles from various sources into a snappy magazine for you and you can flip through and get some really great content. Of course Sid now sits and reads on it all the time and is looking a bit cross eyed!

2) All Things - I love chocolate and I can't remember how I stumbled across All Things, but I decided to include chocolate bars as gifts to my family in their gift bags at Christmas. I'm a sucker for anything home made or with a limited variety and basically not just the biggest brands and flashiest stores. Their packaging was interesting with each type of chocolate with a different cover - All Things Monday, was dark chocolate and granola with a blue pinstriped cover and a little pocket on the front with a To Do list slipped in! All Things Barcelona with a sangria filling, though not bang on sangria flavoured was still yum, and All Things Tropical with a passion fruit filling was my favourite. All Things Chilli with a hint of heat was alright, as was All Things Polo which had a generous hazelbut filling - but perhaps too generous as the outer chocolate layer seemed less in comparison. For the kids I got All Things Christmas and All Things Winter - which were sweet and magical and tasted like all things kids love - crushed peppermint candy in the former and marshmallow bits in the latter. Great gifts!

3) Avirich - I'm not big on buying clothes online, but I've realized how much great variety there is and a lot of them cheaper than in the stores. I recently bought some clothes from the Label Life, a website I have used to buy Christmas gifts before, but I ventured into buying some clothes this time and was pleasantly surprised.  I love dresses and I wear them to work and otherwise, so when I bumped into a lady at a Christmas party who had her own online dress store (only dresses!) I was really excited. She mentioned that she had recently invited a bunch of lady friends over to her apartment to try on dresses and buy them, but other than that they were only available online. I went to her website - and I liked several of the designs - shifts, skater dresses, A-lines, sun dresses, etc so I have every intention of ordering a few. And once again much cheaper than I am used to paying for dresses at regular stores!

4) Burst of Happyness - my sister, Shaheen, is into everything natural and organic and though I am not as disciplined, I am trying to make better choices.  So when my friend Karen told me about Burst of Happyness with their natural, homemade and vegan skin products, I decided these again would make great Christmas gifts for my mom and sister, and I ended up buying some for myself also. From natural deodorants scented with lavender and grapefruit and using coconut oil, baking soda and other oils; to shampoo bars of beer and aloe to moisturisers with mango, kokum and shea butters, I was quite happy with my haul as was my sister who put in a special mention for the moisturiser. Again some convenient and much appreciated gifts!

5) Books and Beyond - Last year was also the year I was told categorically by Sid that I just had too many books and needed to use less space in the house for them. After getting rid of around 150 or so, I decided to join a local library. I've been going to Books and Beyond here in Dwarka for a few years now since it is also a toy shop, and my brother-in-law, Anand, introduced me to it since they also rent out toys for kids' birthday parties and to schools. The owner, Gagan Jolly, is a very sweet man who chats with me about books and puts a lot of effort into helping me choose good reads.  And as convenience is key, he also has them delivered to my doorstep if I can't go to his place. If I call him up and ask him for a book, which he doesn't have, he orders it for me and it's delivered to me within a day or two. It's not just books, I even ordered a new Monopoly set from him and it shall be delivered to me in a day or two since he didn't have the regular version I needed at the time. At Rs.500 a month, and I end up reading 2-3 books a month, I'm happy, Sid's got more space and all is good!

6) Day One - an app I found through an article on Flipboard, this is a sleek and simple journal app. In an attempt to write more, I thought it might help to quickly capture a picture or jot down something that I can go back to later. It's private, but also allows one to publish posts to social media or via email and also converts it into PDF. It's clean, it's attractive and I've only just started using it and right now just jotting down silly things, but since it's just me for it doesn't really matter. It also lets you publish certain entries online if you choose to make them public -

7) Gifts of Love - not new either, but I got gifted the nicest cake plate from here recently by Neha and Shamsher and I passed by the store in the mall and thought a lot of the stuff looked great for gifting. I bought some nice gifts from the Wishing Chair recently and was very pleased with what was shipped to me, and in my new aim to shift to more online shopping, I went to the Gifts of Love website and intend to use it for some gits this year- though I've got my eye on some great magnetic notepads and boards in quirky designs for myself and a very pretty looking calendar and some stationary for my office,

8) Yoga Bars - I haven't tried these yet, but plan on ordering a few since the mayonnaise filled sandwiches and sugar filled drinks at my office cafe are diabetes-on-a-plate, and I like to stock up on filling and nutritious snacks.  Their nutrition labels show no artificial colours or flavours, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, no chemicals and no compromise on taste. I am ordering a box this week - probably an assortment of cardamom and coconut; chocolate chuck nuts and oats and almonds.  Say no to your office cafeteria!

9) Ekaiba - I got the sweetest gift from a friend I made through the choir I sing with, CCM. Smita doesn't sing with CCM right now but has kept in touch and reads my blog and my posts about my silly dogs and mentions how much she enjoys these whenever she meets me (which is like once a year). So I was touched and very pleasantly surprised when she sent me some lovely candles and a decorative box with an assortment of herbal tea bags inside from her new start-up design label - Ekaiba. With decorative items hand made by her team who specialize in decoupage, she made me lovely candles with frolicking doggies on them! With pretty boxes, candles and other decorative items and online orders to be placed at her website, I'm happy I found another place for unique and fun gifts.

10) This last one isn't an app or a website, but more to do with convenience and variety. I follow Little Black Book religiously and am always looking out for good caterers for home parties. With a friend asking recently about South Indian food catering in Gurgaon, I did a quick search and LBB threw up this article about seven caterers that did regional food for parties - from Parsi to Goan to Hyderabadi to Malayali to Rajasthani and Kashmiri. If you're tired of the ubiqitious and generic "Continental" or North Indian with no particular distinctions between regions, I thought this would be a definite list to try out.

So there's my list of interesting finds from the last year!